At Thursday morning’s team shootaround, Miami center Chris Bosh said that the smaller Heat frontcourt would have to combat the Bulls’ bigs by boxing out, working hard and not getting beat on the glass.
Joakim Noah had other plans.
The Bulls center continued to bounce back in a big way, scoring 17 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and handing out three assists in 33 hard-earned minutes in the Bulls’ 107-87 trashing of the defending champions at the United Center.
Though some in the Bulls locker room were hesitant to admit that a win against Miami meant more than if it had come against another team, Noah was blunt in his assessment of taking down LeBron James and Co.
“I think that the people in the city, there’s something about when Miami comes to town,” Noah said. “You wake up in the morning and you feel it, you feel people in the city they don’t like the Miami Heat, we don’t like the Miami Heat, and it always feels good to beat them.”
Noah was everywhere from the opening tip, corralling seven rebounds in the opening quarter, out-rebounding the undersized Heat, 10-9, by himself at halftime, and finishing with an effective 17 points on just nine field-goal attempts. Two of those makes came on offensive rebounds, where the Bulls finished with 24 second-chance points to the Heat’s six, an impressive number considering the Bulls shot 50 percent compared to Miami’s 41.6 percent.
And on the defensive end, Noah led the charge on a defense that was stout in not allowing the Heat to get inside, forcing the defending champs to shoot from the perimeter where they made just 6 of 22 3-point attempts.
Through three quarters the Heat had grabbed just one offensive rebound on 33 missed field goals. Though Miami ranks last in the NBA in offensive boards, that number is more a product of leading the NBA in field-goal percentage by more than a whole percentage point.
The Bulls outworked the Heat, and it started with Noah. That was something that didn’t surprise Taj Gibson, who finished with 19 points off the bench.
“(Joakim) told me in the locker room, ‘I’ve got to bring the energy back up.’ And lately he’s been playing with a lot of energy, back to his yelling ways and we’re going to need that in a lot of ways.”
The Bulls struggled as a whole on their recent Circus Trip, and though Noah was hardly the reason why he also failed to hold up his end, averaging 8.8 points on 45 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds as the Bulls went 1-5 away from the United Center.
But the home cooking has been good for Noah. In two games back in Chicago, he is averaging 18.0 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 67 percent from the field.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau attributes some of Noah’s improved play to the veteran getting his rhythm and timing back after missing most of training camp dealing with a groin injury.
“I think the biggest problem that he’s had this year is missing training camp. So basically this would be like if he had gone a month from camp,” Thibodeau said. “So you could see his timing’s coming back and he’s getting a lot more comfortable with the ball. His defense has been there, but his reaction, his timing, all that stuff is pretty good right now.
And though Noah admitted his emotions were running high throughout the night – he even pulled out his patented celebration of putting fake pistols into his holster after a made 15-footer – Thibodeau said it has been Noah’s preparation that has put him over the top in the Bulls’ last two games.
“I thought he played just as well in our last game," Thibodeau said. "So, you can’t rely on emotion to get things done. It’s part of it, but being ready mentally, being ready physically and being ready emotionally, but you need all three qualities to try to put it on.”
The only difference Thursday night was that the Bulls came out with a win against a contender and established that they aren’t a team to simply write off because of Derrick Rose’s absence, as hard as it may be on a team trying to get over the loss on the go.
“A lot of battles, a lot of scars, a lot of tough losses, a lot of seasons ending because of (the Heat), and I think that just our team needed it,” Noah said. “We’ve been through a lot the last couple weeks, and I think even for me it’s really hard to play without Derrick.
“I want to win with Derrick Rose. He brings a lot of hope to the city and I feed of that. I feel really privileged to play in that position so him going down was just, it was really hard for me, hard for us but we have to move on and it’s not easy.”
Thursday night Noah made it a little bit easier, and got the Bulls back in the win column.